Trails for everyone, forever

Home Go Hiking Hiking Guide Northern State Ghost Town

Northern State Ghost Town

North Cascades


North Cascades -- North Cascades Highway - Hwy 20
View map below


5.0 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 50 ft.
Highest Point: 182 ft.


4.00 out of 5

(12 votes) Log in to rate

Parking Pass/Entry Fee


Once the largest facility for mentally ill people in Washington State, Northern State Mental Hospital was a town unto itself. The hospital was established in 1909 after the over-crowded conditions at Western State Hospital came under public criticism. Northern State’s grand opening happened in 1912.

The Olmstead Brothers, whose father was famous for having designed New York City’s Central Park, designed the landscape at Northern State. Renowned architects Saunders and Lawton designed the hospital’s buildings. They worked in close collaboration with Northern State’s farm superintendent to create a self-sustaining and therapeutic colony for the mentally ill. The hospital site included patient and staff housing, a water reservoir, sewage system, lumber mill, quarry, steam plant, greenhouse, canning facilities, gymnasium, library, laundry, dining room, bakery, dairy, and 700-acre farm for growing vegetables and raising livestock. A cemetery was also included in the site plan.

At one time in the 1950s about 2,700 patients lived at Northern State. This was the full capacity of the hospital according to the superintendent at the time, but he was still being pressured to take on more patients. The public perception of mental hospitals began to change in the 1970s, and Northern State Mental Hospital closed its doors in 1976 after the State Legislature cut off funding. Some of the buildings, including the farm’s housing ward, have since been torn down. A few of the remaining buildings are currently being used for job corps projects and drug rehabilitation.

The active buildings at Northern State are off-limits to members of the public, but much of the former property is now a part of Northern State Recreation Area. It is located just north of the Skagit River near the town of Sedro-Woolley. The recreation area has an extensive trail system that will take you through wide open pastures, along forested lanes, and past the still standing barns, milking shed, cannery, and other structures used during the hospital’s self-sustaining past. You can also visit the old cemetery, which is the resting place of at least 1,500 people.


Northern State Ghost Town

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 48.5255, -122.1946 Open map in new window


North Cascades -- North Cascades Highway - Hwy 20

Skagit County Parks and Recreation

See weather forecast

Getting There

From Burlington, drive about 7 miles east on Highway 20. Turn north on Helmick Road. Drive about .3 miles. Turn left into Northern State Recreation Area parking lot.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee


You can improve or add to this guidebook entry

Northern State Ghost Town

117 Trip Reports

Hiked here recently?

Submit a trip report!
Trip Reports